Illinois, Juice come up huge in thrashing of Michigan

John Supinie

Losses to Missouri and Penn State, both ranked in the Top 6 heading into the weekend, could be explained away.

But when Illinois played at Michigan with a the possibility of falling under .500 and dropping its first two Big Ten Conference games, the Illini and middle linebacker Brit Miller knew it was time to draw a line in the FieldTurf in a game pitting a pair of unranked teams.

"We needed this one,'' Miller said. "If we don't win this one, the season could have been in a little bit of danger. I believe in momentum. This game is big for us. It proves we can win.''

Rallying from a 14-3 deficit while rolling past Michigan 45-20 at Michigan Stadium on Saturday, Illinois defeated the Wolverines for only the fifth time in the past 50 years. Illinois improved to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten. Illinois plays three of the next four games at home, starting with the homecoming game against Minnesota (5-1, 1-1) on Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN).

The Illini won in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1999 and ended a six-game losing streak to the Wolverines.

"There's a lot of mystique about this place,'' said Illini coach Ron Zook. "It's an honor and a privilege to come into Michigan Stadium and come out with a win. In the Big Ten, it's one game at a time. You have to keep it in perspective.''

Here's some perspective. The 45 points were the most ever scored against Michigan by the Illini, topping the previous mark of 39 set when Red Grange accounted for six touchdowns in 1924. The margin of victory also tied the previous best from 1924, the Memorial Stadium dedication game when Illinois won 39-14.

After falling behind 14-3, Illinois dominated the game. If this wasn't the best game of quarterback Juice Williams's career, it was only topped by the upset at No. 1 Ohio State last season.

He answered a challenge from Zook, passing for 310 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for 121 yards and two touchdowns. His 431 total yards were the most by a player in Michigan Stadium history. Williams was the first player in school history to pass for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 100 yards in a single game.

Illinois scored 28 straight points to build a 31-14 lead early in the fourth quarter. The Illini offense finished with 501 total yards.

"On a team, you have great players, good players and role players,” Willliams said. "(Zook) came to us and said, 'Great players have to play great all the time.' It was a challenge. We had to step up to the plate.

"It was a good game, but there were still some corrections to be made.”

After allowing two touchdowns in the first three Michigan possessions, Illinois held the Wolverines (2-2, 1-1) scoreless on their next eight possessions: seven punts and a fumble. Like Williams, Miller posted his best game. He had nine tackles, two sacks and four tackles for a loss. At one point, he had sacks on back-to-back plays, spearheading a defense that overwhelmed a Michigan scheme still under transition under first-year coach Rich Rodriguez.

"What coach was saying wasn't about wholesale changes but making guys understand that you have to take care of your job and your business,'' said Illinois co-defensive coordinator Dan Disch. "Today, we came out and did better on first down against the run and put them in passing downs, predictable situations. Then it was fun.''

The crowd of 109,750 made a big move to the exits with half of the fourth quarter still to play. Michigan had four yards of offense in the third quarter.

"That's a lack of execution, and it goes down to us getting it right in practice,'' Rodriguez said. "You've got to give (the Illini) credit. They got some players, but we got players, too.”

After Williams scored on a six-yard run to trim the Michigan lead to 14-10, Illini running back Daniel Dufrene caught a swing pass in full stride. With a burst of speed not previously shown by Dufrene, he blew past the defense for a 57-yard touchdown for a 17-14 lead with 10 minutes 49 seconds left in the second quarter. The Illini never trailed again.

Illinois gained control on the first possession of the third quarter. Wide receiver Jeff Cumberland caught a 77-yard touchdown pass for a 24-14 lead.

"That kind of broke their backs right there,'' Miller said. "You always need a big game to start the ball rolling. We're going home, and we've played well there.''

NOTES: Williams' 431 total yards tied the record for yards against Illinois, set by Northwestern's Sandy Schwab in Evanston in 1982. The previous total yards record against Michigan here was 403 by Illinois' Tony Eason in 1981. … Illinois' 45 points were the most by any team against Michigan here since Florida State put up 51 in 1991. … Since 1958, Illinois' previous wins over Michigan game in 1999, 1993, 1983 and 1966. Only the 1983 victory came in Memorial Stadium.

John Supinie can be reached at

Illinois report card

Offense: A

It wasn't quite six touchdowns, like Red Grange in 1924. But quarterback Juice Williams finished with four touchdowns -- two rushing and two passing -- while compiling 431 total yards, the most ever in a single game by one player in Michigan Stadium history. Williams doesn't always look smooth, but this might have been the best game of his career, perhaps even better than his game at Ohio State last season.

Defense: A

OK, so Michigan isn't a juggernaut on offense under first-year Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez, even though Michigan rallied for victory over then-No. 9 Wisconsin last weekend. Behind linebacker Brit Miller, the Illini defense dominated Michigan in the game's final three quarters. Illinois mixed up the coverages and won the battle on first down.

Special teams: B

The coverages were shaky early, and the Illini had one field-goal attempt blocked. But this wasn't anything that played a role in the outcome.

Overall: A

Coach Ron Zook is 2-0 in his first appearances in Ohio Stadium and Michigan Stadium. In fact, the Illini made it look pretty easy. Williams silenced some critics following the Penn State loss and answered a challenge from Zook. Miller led a defense that had things in control. Now the Illini return home, where they play three of the next four. Here's a chance to make a move.